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October 14, 2010
In The Village
Gospel has no place for 'mysteries'
by Orson Scott Card

Last week, talking about the Creation, I quoted from the First Presidency Message that in 1931 counseled the Saints to "leave" the sciences "to scientific research" while we concentrate on the work of the Church.

From such advice -- designed to avoid useless conflict -- some people might conclude that the Lord wishes this to remain "one of the mysteries."

But "mysteries" -- at least as other Christian churches use the term -- have no place in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

To us Latter-day Saints, the term "mystery" is similar to the mysteries in detective novels, in which each story is built around the efforts of the sleuth to uncover the facts that will explain why a particular victim was killed. In detective fiction, the assumption is that the mystery can be solved and, by the last page, will be solved.

This is right in line with the attitude of Latter-day Saints. It is an Article of Faith that we don't know everything yet: "We believe that [the Lord] will yet reveal many great and important things" (AF 9).

"The Lord is extending the Saints' understanding," we often sing, and "the knowledge and power of God are expanding." For either to be possible, then previously there must have been things unknown or not yet understood.

Yet we expect to understand all things eventually, as stated in the Church-approved Encyclopedia of Mormonism: "The scriptures tell why man was created, but they do not tell how, though the Lord has promised that he will tell that when he comes again."

In other words, when we Latter-day Saints confront a "mystery," we expect it, eventually, to be resolved! The only reason they are mysteries is that we don't have enough data; once we get more information, by revelation or careful science, the mystery will cease to be mysterious, as the boundaries of our knowledge are extended.

Contrast this with the general Christian view. To them, "Mystery" describes that which cannot be known to the finite mind of man. It is used when Christians run up against tenets that seem to be contradictory or nonsensical, and once someone has said, "That is one of the Mysteries," the inquiring Christian is told, essentially, to stifle his curiosity and move on.

For instance, take the dilemma at the center of the Arian vs. Athanasian controversy for which so many died over the centuries, despite Constantine's effort to resolve the issue back in the fourth century. The issue is at what point Christ became divine.

Was he created by God, and therefore, though divine, distinct from and inferior to God the Father? Or was he already God before he was born into mortality, so that he is exactly equal to and part of God the Father?

To Mormons, there are several reasons why these questions either make no sense or pose no problem. We know that Christ -- like all of God's children -- is co-eternal with God.

We also know that human beings are not fundamentally different from God, since we all carry within us the divine potential, and God and Christ have behind them the experience of mortality.

Here is the key: We do not see any fundamental opposition between the natures of man and God.

We can thwart God's desire to perfect us, for our free choices can create a gulf between us, which can only be bridged by the atonement of Christ when we repent. Yet Christ did not have to become utterly different from God in order to live among us in a mortal body.

Why did the Christian world, then, tear themselves apart over an issue that doesn't even exist for us? Because they were trying to desperately to resolve a fundamental conflict between two religions, one of them true, the other one utterly false.

Original Christianity, partaking of the Old Testament as well as the New, had no difficulty seeing God as manlike (and vice versa). But this is precisely the point where Christianity (and Judaism before it) had run head-on into the dogmas of neo-Platonism.

In the Symposium of Plato, the "doctrine of men" is clearly presented. In this religion of the philosophers, that which is perfect cannot be physical; therefore God cannot have any kind of physical form. He is perfect truth and beauty, and cannot be divided in any way, since only in perfect unity can he be God.

How can you reconcile the resurrected body of Christ with this bodiless God? To the Greeks, the idea of divinity in a physical body was nonsense.

When educated Christians tried to make their religion acceptable to the "wise" of the world around them, they struggled to find a formula that would allow Christ to be resurrected and separate from God the Father, while still fitting the neo-Platonic idea of God.

The answer is simple. You can't.

Neo-Platonism is elegant but flat wrong. Their "God" is as perfect a description of non-existence as it is possible to find. In its insubstantial and static perfection it is a god any atheist can believe in.

And in practical terms, few Christians really believe in it. Most Christians who are untrained in official theology actually believe in the living Heavenly Father and his resurrected Son as separate beings.

Where Christian philosophers developed the idea of Mystery as a rug under which to sweep contradiction and paradox, Mormons see only a mass of confusion which cannot be understood and in which we therefore do not believe.

(For a clear presentation of the early Church's surrender to neo-Platonism, read Richard R. Hopkins's How Greek Philosophy Corrupted the Christian Concept of God.)

The Lord never asks his children to turn off their curiosity. We may speculate about anything; there is no question we should not or may not ask, even though the answer might elude us because of our present level of understanding. The only danger is when we think our tentative conclusions should be binding upon others.

We believe that eventually all things can be understood and will be known as our capacity and understanding increase. Our ignorance is an impermanent condition.

Any Mormon who says "we have all the answers" really doesn't get it. The true statement is, "There are clear answers to all questions, and someday we will learn both the questions and the answers."

No Mystery -- just mysteries.

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